The Great Songs: Thin Lizzy – The Cowboy Song

by Eric Melin on November 3, 2010

in Columns,The Great Songs

I will make a statement right now that pretty much defines the reason this song is on the list: I love the electric guitar.

Last month I was on a roll while writing this column and I included some of what I consider to be the best guitar-rock songs of all time: Television’s “Marquee Moon” and Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.”

Thin-Lizzy-Jailbreak-coverIt got me thinking about THE band that defines the melodic dual guitar for the ages: Dublin’s best band, the highly underrated Thin Lizzy.

Thin Lizzy has so many great songs, it was hard to choose one. I chose the campy (yet somehow sincere) third single from their classic 1976 album “Jailbreak.”

“The Cowboy Song” endures because it has one of the catchiest, most memorable twin-guitar harmony leads ever. First, singer/songwriter/bassist/band leader Phil Lynott sings a somber refrain about his lonely time on the plains:

I am just a cowboy lonesome on the trail/A starry night, a campfire light/The coyote call, the howling winds wail/So I ride out to the old sundown

At :43, a muted version of the lick begins as a teaser. And then it happens. Founding member/drummer Brian Downey starts the drum buildup and there’s a brief preview of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson‘s sweet guitarmonies and the sweetness to come. One of the catchiest choruses Lynott ever wrote comes in at about 1:30.

Sure, the lyrics are cheesy. But somehow, along with the music, they actually manage to evoke the Old West. Later in the song, the guitar/drum breakdown makes me think of trotting horses.  Lynott’s smooth delivery and staccato phrasing sets up the guitar explosion and then it’s off to the races at a full gallop!

If this song doesn’t put a smile on your face, then you must not like rock n’ roll.

The Great Songs series so far:

The Great Songs: Big Star – Thirteen

The Great Songs: The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset

The Great Songs: The Jayhawks – Blue

The Great Songs: Pavement – Summer Babe

The Great Songs: The Zombies – Care of Cell 44

The Great Songs: The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

The Great Songs: Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

The Great Songs: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today

The Great Songs: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Great Songs: KISS – Deuce

The Great Songs: The Flying Burrito Brothers – Hot Burrito #1

The Great Songs: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??

The Great Songs: Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine

The Great Songs: The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

The Great Songs: Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On

The Great Songs: Slayer – Angel of Death

The Great Songs: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Beyond Belief

The Great Songs: The Replacements – Unsatisfied

The Great Songs: Cheap Trick – Surrender

The Great Songs: Guided by Voices – Motor Away

The Great Songs: The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl

The Great Songs: Badfinger – Baby Blue

The Great Songs: Ray Charles – That Lucky Old Sun

The Great Songs: Television – Marquee Moon

The Great Songs: Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Cortez the Killer

The Great Songs: David Bowie – Life On Mars?

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier November 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

My favorite has always been Don’t Believe a Word, but there are just so many great Thin Lizzy tracks to choose from

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2 Eric Melin November 3, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Yeah, that’s a great one too–we do that one in our tribute band Thik Lizzy. Ha!

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